I first saw this movie as a kid. It was playing on some B-movie channel like USA or Lifetime, and it had already started when I came upon it. I was flipping channels, and I only stopped only because I noticed Alan Alda. Being a huge fan of the show M*A*S*H, I had to see what Hawkeye was up to.
I actually have very little memory of the movie itself. All I was left with was the basic premise, which is of a man and a woman who are both married, but not to each other, who meet each other every year at the same time, at the same place, for a weekend affair. The movie spans about 25 years, and the idea of lasting 25 years with the same person, other than their spouse, touched me, even as young as I was.
So, I had added it to the Poly Movie List based on my memory of a feeling, rather than actually remembering the plot. And I decided eventually that I ought to watch the movie again, just to make sure it really deserved to be included on that list. And after re-watching it, y'know what? I'm not really sure.
We first meet George and Doris on the night that they meet each other. George is an accountant with a client in the area, and Doris is a housewife whose in-laws hate her, so she comes up to a nearby convent / retreat every year on this weekend to avoid them. The two find themselves drawn to each other in the restaurant of the bed & breakfast where George is staying and they spend the evening gazing into each other's eyes and talking deeply to each other. The next morning, they wake up to discover that they've had an affair.
Normally, cheating spouses is a pretty good guarantee of a movie getting itself banned from the Poly Movie List. But this one was a little different. George and Doris are not unhappy at home and looking to replace their respective spouses. They each love their respective spouses and have happy lives with them. It's just that they are so drawn to each other, but their affair does not change the love they have for their spouses, and they agonize over the duplicity throughout the entire movie.
[inserted movie clip about agonizing over cheating]
Also, this movie is different from most cheating movies because it's not a one-time thing, or over a short span of time. Their affair lasts for the bulk of their adult lives. They grow old together, and their affair deepens to a true love of each other. Yes, it's true, they do not tell their spouses, and that deceitfulness is what makes me waver on whether or not to keep this movie on the list. But George and Doris not only love each other, they grow to be fond of each other's families and spouses too, even though they have never met them.
George and Doris play a game, where they each tell one story that paints their spouses in a negative light, and then another story that paints them in a positive light. [inserted movie clip with some examples of telling the two stories] These scenes are so touching, as they live vicariously through each other's stories and get to know each other's spouses from afar. We see them live through each other's pain and anguish, and we see them grow through each other's joys. We see George and Doris each take different life paths and learn how to grow back together.
And now, 2 small spoilers, but not the end of the film.
There are 2 particular scenes that make me hesitate to strike this movie from the list. In one of them, Doris confides that her husband may leave her, and she is distraught. In spite of her relationship with George, she does not want to lose her relationship with her husband. Doris goes to the car to get something, and her husband calls at that moment looking for her, believing it to be the number of the room where Doris is staying at the convent.
Although this is George's chance to finally get Doris away from her husband, he doesn't. He does his best to patch up their marriage and, when given the perfect chance to reveal the nature of his relationship with Doris, he covers it up for the sake of restoring their marriage. Yes, it's a lie, and I can't overlook that. But George's intentions are to do what he thinks would make Doris happiest, not what he can get out of the situation.
[inserted movie clip of George trying to fix Doris' marriage and rejecting the opportunity to reveal the deception]
The other scene is when George reveals that his wife found out about Doris, and has known for many years. But George's wife never said a word. She kept silent and allowed George to continue his annual trips, knowing full well that another woman was waiting for him. She loved George that much. And George, upon learning of her silence to allow him his indiscretion, falls in love with his wife all over again for her strength, her courage, and her compassion. Doris, too, admires the woman.
[inserted movie clip of George telling Doris that his wife learned of their affair]
So, I think the reason why I keep wanting to keep this movie on the list, is because this is what I imagine polyamorous relationships are like when the participants don't know that an option like polyamory exists. This is the story I believe that some of us could have found ourselves in if we had lived in a time and place where open relationships were just not allowed. This is what I think happens when we are not allowed to express ourselves and our love when love is bigger than our rules.
This is a movie about 4 people, even though we only ever meet 2 of them - about the love and desire that encompass them, through presidential terms, through wars, through changing fashions and political ideals, and over the course of a quarter of a century. So you may disagree with me about whether or not this is a poly movie, and I think some very valid points can be made on that side of the debate that I can't argue with. But I'm going to keep it on the list anyway.
You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!
Whatever Works (2009)
Whatever Works by Woody Allen, was recommended to me by my best friend. I'm not a Woody Allen fan. I get awfully tired of his neurotic-old-man-gets-hot-younger-woman schtick that seems to be the only kind of relationship he is capable of writing about. But my best friend told me that this movie has a functional poly relationship as sub-characters and that I should watch it.
So I did.
I was pleasantly surprised. The main character IS a neurotic old man who gets a hot younger woman, but I liked it anyway. Boris is a cranky, atheist, nihilist, genius, egomaniac, and other than the nihilism part getting tiresome rather early, I actually kinda liked his character. He complained about religion and foolish people, which I can TOTALLY get behind. His constant dismissive and condescending attitude towards others, assuming that everyone is "dumber" than him because he's a genius, got annoying, but otherwise, I found I had a lot in common with the old crank.
[inserted movie clip of description of Boris]
I'll have to spoil some of the plot in order to introduce the poly sub-plot, but I'll try to leave off as many details about the main story as possible and I'll avoid the ending. The short story is that the poly sub-plot really is poly.
One day, Boris comes home to find a pretty, homeless girl from Mississippi on his doorstep begging for food. Against his better judgement, he lets Melody come inside to eat, where she weasels her way into free room and board for the next month. She's a stereotypical "dumb blonde", cheerful, and religious. And yet she manages to develop a crush on cranky old Boris anyway.
He resists her for a while, but eventually she grows on him and they end up married, as people who have nothing in common and don't seem to like each other much seem to do in movies. About a year later, her fundie Christian mother shows up on their doorstep, prayin' to Jaysus and trying to save her daughter from the sinful life in New York and marriage (that she refuses to acknowledge) to a man old enough to be her daughter's grandfather. We find out that Marrietta (Melody's mom) was recently dumped by her husband, John, for her best friend and she is now homeless, broke, and divorced.
As she plots to find another man for her daughter, Marietta ends up getting introduced to one of Boris' friends, a professor of philosophy named Brockman (of course) who finds her physically attractive in spite of her out-of-touch religious views. He asks her out on a date, where she gets drunk and shows him pictures of Melody as a child pageant queen. Brockman thinks her pictures have a "primitive" brilliance to them and convinces Marietta to show them to an art critic friend. Brockman also seduces Marietta and all her religious views fly right out the window.
The art critic friend, Howard, falls in love with Marietta's "primitive" photography, and also with Marietta, and the two men move in with her in a happy threesome, where the fundie religious southern Christian turns into a hedonistic, polyamorous, artist living in New York.
[inserted movie clips describing the triad]
So I liked the movie because the protagonist was a cranky, atheist, son of a bitch, and the poly triad had no drama or issues whatsoever. Marietta discovered much more of herself through her relationship with her two male partners, which is exactly what happens in good poly relationships, or any complex and healthy relationship, really. The relationship worked and the movie ended with the triad still functioning and happy.
I recommend the movie for a bit of light viewing, and it definitely deserves to be on the poly list, even though the poly family is not the main plot focus.
You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!
Portrait Of A Marriage (1990)
www.imdb.com/title/tt0098897/ - Internet Movie Data Base
I had such high hopes for this movie! It's based on the true story of renowned feminist writer Vita Sackville-West, during the early part of the 20th century. It follows her through her marriage to diplomat and writer Harold Nicolson, and her affair with her childhood friend, novelist Violet Keppel. Vita and her husband Harold had several same-sex affairs each during their life-long marriage, including a relationship between Vita and famous author Virginia Woolf. So I was expecting this movie to rank up there with Carrington, which I also reviewed and loved.
But this movie did not have the same feel.
On to the spoilers, because the entire plot of this movie is the reason why I'm not going to recommend it, so I can't explain why without giving away the whole thing.
So, Vita has a best friend named Violet, as a teen. Later, she marries Harold, and they have 2 sons. Then, one day, he comes home from one of his extended diplomatic missions, and confesses that they cannot have sex for 2 months because he has contracted some kind of STD. He then reassures his wife that she is the ONLY woman in his life. After realizing this means that her husband is gay, or at least bi, Vita gradually shakes off the shock and decides that it doesn't matter, since he remains devoted to her and the children.
Before she reaches acceptance, however, she has to adjust to the shock of the news, and turns to her best friend, Violet, for support, only to have Violet use the opportunity of vulnerability to seduce Vita. What follows next is a torrid love affair filled with train-wreck drama that I just can't understand.
Vita and Harold develop an "understanding" that Harold will have "friends" while he is out of town, but he loves his wife and puts her as his priority. This is the perfect setup for introducing a lesbian relationship for Vita, right? Harold has his own same-sex partners, and he *gets* the idea of loving more than one, or at least loving one and having sex with many, so she should be able to do something similar, right?
No, he hates the idea of his wife spending time with Violet, although it is quite some time before it is revealed that their relationship is sexual. He suspects early on, but there is a lot of secrecy and deception. Which brings me to the next part of the drama that shouldn't be there.
Vita has a husband who has lovers on the side and she accepts it in a sort of DADT arrangement. So she should totally be expecting her husband to now allow her the same freedom, right? Particularly since she's a feminist and flaunts "tradition" by wearing masculine clothing (which her husband loves, by the way). So, once she learns of her husband's infidelity, and once she reaches the conclusion that their marriage will continue and she will overlook them, it seems a natural next step to come clean to her husband and admit a love for women too. What's good for the gander is good for the goose and all.
But no, she tries to hide her relationship with Violet for a long time, using the convenient excuse that women often develop close friendships and often go on vacations and such together. So Vita tries to hide her lesbian relationship from her husband, while her husband gets jealous over the idea of his wife having another lover. To his credit, however, he bends over backwards to give her the freedom to write and go on trips, and even to remain friends with Violet, providing their marriage & family isn't thrown into disarray. I have to say that's a reasonable request, given the circumstances.
Next is Violet. She absolutely loathes the fact that Vita is married and begs on more than one occasion for Vita to dump her husband and run away with her instead. Remember, this is the 1920s and '30s. Women just didn't *do* that. But Violet absolutely cannot understand when Vita says she loves both her husband and her girlfriend and cannot choose between them. Vita feels there are too many sides to her personality to be encompassed by only one partner. With her husband, she can be the happy homemaker, wife, mother, and gardener that she feels truly content as. But with her girlfriend, she can be the proud and powerful Amazon, running wild and free, that she *also* enjoys. This sounds PERFECT for a poly setup.
Violet wants Vita all to herself and constantly tries to sabotage Vita's marriage. She even steals Vita away for a few weeks while Harold is out of town and not around to notice. Vita dresses as a young soldier on honeymoon with his "wife" and they pass as a hetero married couple. They exchange vows, and both women feel as though they are truly married.
Eventually, however, Violet announces that she is getting married to Dennys, who is smart, charming, handsome, and completely besotted with Violet. He is so besotted, in fact, that he will "do as he's told", meaning he will agree to whatever stipulations in the marriage that Violet insists on, just to be married to her. Violet insists on having a "business arrangement" marriage, where there is absolutely no sex, and Dennys agrees. Again, a perfect poly setup. Violet gets to marry a man who will not touch her, and would probably agree to an open arrangement if it had been offered, and with the marriage, Violet gets a degree of freedom not otherwise granted to women in this era. Violet could have her relationship with Vita, if Vita only pointed out how her husband has his lovers on the side, and if Vita acknowledged Harold's legitimate concern about the family and kids. Everyone could get what they want!
Instead, everyone is completely and utterly miserable.
So, the wedding day for Violet and Dennys approaches, and Violet begs Vita to "save her". Remember, this is a marriage that Violet herself arranged, and arranged to suit her orientation, no less. Vita refuses to "rescue" her because Harold admonishes her for even considering the chaos and disruption this would bring to Dennys, himself, and their families. So instead, Vita kidnaps Violet on her wedding day and brutally rapes her, screaming "is this how he feels?" What. The. Fuck?
Then, Vita and Violet make up and Violet convinces Vita to run away with her and they hatch an elaborate plot to "elope" again. Dennys gets wind of it and sets up a meeting with Vita, in which he tries to convince her not to steal his wife. He points out that neither woman understands anything about money and asks how they will support themselves (sounding very much like a father who disapproves of his daughter's choice in boyfriends). Neither woman can answer how they will support themselves, but that doesn't stop them. Caught in the middle, Violet announces that she will go to stay with her mother for a few weeks to think about things before making any sort of decision. Dennys gives her an ultimatum, telling her if they want to elope, they will do it now or never. Violet says she'll be gone by the next evening.
So the women make their plans and Dennys discovers the details, running to stop them from leaving at the train station. Violet has gone on ahead and Dennys finds only Vita. He proceeds to badger her into telling him where Violet has gone, which she does, and then insists on going with Vita to join her. And for some unfathomable reason, Vita tells him when and how she plans to meet up.
So the next morning, Vita arrives at the dock only to find Dennys already at the head of the line to buy tickets, when the cashier announces that he only has 2 single occupancy rooms left. Dennys buys them both, then gives one ticket to Vita. They take the voyage together, seeming to become friends as they laugh and share meals together on the trip.
When they arrive, Vita sees Violet in the hotel lobby before Dennys enters, and runs up to her to demand to know why Violet is still there (apparently they were supposed to meet somewhere else), but Violet is hysterical for a reason I never found out. Vita tries to get Violet to hide before Dennys finds her, but Dennys arrives just at that time and everyone goes up to Violet's room. While there, Violet lays in bed to "recover" from whatever frightened her, and she says how lovely it is to be with the two people she loves most in the world, and to have them getting along. The 3 of them seem to be having a grand old time, with Dennys toasting over champagne "to the three of us!" Then, without warning, Dennys gets up, writes a note, and storms out of the room.
The note says he cannot do this and he leaves, only to go back to England where he tells Vita's mother (I have no idea why) that Dennys and Violet had sex all the time. Why Vita's mother needs to know that a married couple she is not related to has regular sex, I haven't a clue. Then he finds Harold and tells him where the women are staying and the two men go to get their wives back (Harold, who had been told by Vita that she was leaving him for Violet, was totally distraught and can't understand how Violet managed to make Vita turn her back on her children and blames Violet for the whole thing).
So the men show up, and again there is a huge screaming match between all involved where the women insist on being together and the men insist that the women come home. Eventually, the men leave the women's hotel room, dejected. Vita goes to a nearby cafe to smoke and brood, as she does, and Harold finds her and has a chat. He tries to sow dissension and suspicion by asking Vita if she is *sure* that Violet was really faithful (again, the hypocrisy - why the fuck does it matter to Vita? She was married to Harold & had sex with her husband, so why Vita flies into jealous rages at the thought of Violet having sex with anyone else, let alone her own husband, is a constant source of bafflement to me).
Naturally, Vita runs screaming back to the hotel "when was the last time you had sex with him?" and "how dare you lie to me!" as she corners Violet on the stairs and slams her up against a wall. Then, for some unknown reason, she tears up the stairs and backs herself into their room, brandishing a chair like a lion tamer, as the other three come skidding into the room after her. Literally, they all run into the room and slide to a stop.
Violet begs Dennys to tell Vita the truth, that they have never had sex as per their arrangement, to which he does. Vita then looks with horror at Violet (more bafflement on my part) and says "I just can't trust you" and leaves.
She never sees Violet again.
What looks like 20 years later, Vita gets a call from Violet while she's out in her garden with her husband, apparently happy and settled in monogamous, married life. Vita freaks out until Violet reassures her that nothing is wrong. But Vita refuses to go see her and hangs up the phone in tears, runs to her tower bedroom and locks herself in to smoke and brood, which brings us back to the very beginning of the movie, where she starts the tale in flashbacks.
Next, we see a very, very old Harold, writing a letter to Violet, where it is implied that Vita has just died and Harold is sending Violet a ring that Vita used to wear, believing that Vita would want Violet to have it because Violet gave that ring to Vita when they were teens. It is also implied that Vita and Violet never saw each other after that train-wreck of a fight amongst the four of them, but that Harold knows how important Violet was to Vita and he is happy that Vita had such a strong love with Violet. Like, what? He's happy that the two women had such a strong bond even though the last time anyone saw each other was like 40 years ago and he was part of the scheme that broke them up. But yay, they loved each other?
So, we have 4 people: 2 married couples, each with an "arrangement" of sorts that should have allowed for a quad or N poly relationship and a natural understanding of how it is possible to love more than one person, to love someone and have sex with others, or to have different kinds of love for different kinds of people. I could see there being personality clashes, but I just did not understand the drama, the screaming, the tears, the rages. I don't understand how a person can themself love more than one person and yet be insanely jealous at even the thought of their lover having other partners. And bisexuality seems to be the easiest way for non-poly people to grasp the whole poly thing - one of each where one can provide what the other can't. And then there's the real life biography itself, which explicitly stated that Vita and her husband each had multiple lovers while remaining married to each other for decades.
This movie should have been a classic poly story. Even the biography sounded more poly than the movie ended up being. It's not the ending of various relationships that make this story not-poly, it's the screaming, jealous, drama that made it not poly. The movie portrayed the women as jealous, spiteful, deceitful, selfish women who completely screwed over their husbands. Even the gay husband with his same-sex lovers and STD was a more sympathetic character, and his willingness to overlook his discomfort with his wife's lesbian relationships as long as it didn't destroy their family should have set this up perfectly for a poly arrangement. And knowing that, in real life, the main character did, in fact, continue to have relationships outside of her marriage (as did her husband), this movie could have portrayed all of this in a much more poly light, like the way Carrington did.
But it didn't. I really wish I could put this movie on the poly list, because even with the drama in Carrington, it was still clearly about people who understood the concept of multiple loving relationships. But this one was not. It only showed this one multiple-person relationship and the "multiple" part is what destroyed it. Knowing that Vita, in real life, continued to have outside relationships leads me to believe that her life was more poly than this movie portrayed it, like Carrington. Which then leads me to suspect that the script-writer disapproved of open relationships (or at least of women having same-sex affairs) and wrote that tone into the story. I'm highly disappointed.
You've been reading Poly-ish Movie Reviews, with your host, Joreth, where I watch the crap so you don't have to!
Summer Lovers (1982)
www.imdb.com/title/tt0084737/ - Internet Movie Data Base
movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Summer_Lovers/60025215?trkid=2361637 - Netflix
www.amazon.com/Summer-Lovers-82-Ws/dp/B0007XBKLI/ - Amazon
If you want to see a poly movie, I can think of no better example than Summer Lovers. This movie stars Daryl Hannah and takes place in the very early 1980s in the romantic and exotic setting of a beach-side villa in Greece. Cathy and her boyfriend Michael decide to spend the summer in Greece, lounging around, soaking up the sun, and seeing the sights. Until Michael sets his sights on Lina. Lina is a French archaeologist working in Greece for the summer and renting a villa within sight of Cathy and Michael's villa. Michael runs into her one day and follows her to the beach, while Cathy is off exploring on her own. With what seems to be very little setup, Michael and Lina have sex.
Michael, feeling guilt-ridden, immediately confesses to Cathy, who, understandably, leaves him in a fit of anger and hurt. Michael seeks consolation in Lina's arms that night.
The next day, Michael and Cathy attempt to reconcile, but it's difficult. Cathy wants to understand why Michael would cheat on her and what he sees in Lina. So she seeks Lina out. Cathy arrives at Lina's villa, and they have a little chat. Cathy discovers that she actually likes Lina and invites her to dinner with the two of them, much to Michael's surprise and discomfort.
What follows is the tale of a couple, damaged by infidelity, opening their minds and their hearts to another woman. We see the growing pains as Cathy struggles with her feelings of betrayal that war with her interest and appreciation of Lina. We see Michael, caught between his long-time love and a new, intriguing woman. We see tug of war between Lina's desire and love for Michael and Cathy, and her need for independence and freedom.
This movie takes us on the whole ride, from a very common beginning that starts with an indiscretion and leads to a family. We see the good times and the bad. This movie does not gloss over the bumps in the road as three people attempt to adjust to a non-traditional relationship, but it is also not a morality play against the evils of sex and non-traditional love. I think a lot of people can identify with this movie because I think a lot of people come to polyamory from very similar situations.
I think this is probably the best example of polyamory in film out there. It shows us the whole range of emotions and gives us characters we can relate to and situations in which we can understand how the characters got there, probably because most of us have been there ourselves. No poly movie list would be complete without this film on it.
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Y Tu Mamá También (2002)www.imdb.com/title/tt0245574/ - Internet Movie Data Base
www.netflix.com/title/60023237 - Netflix
www.amazon.com/tu-mamá-también-Diego-Luna/dp/B00KE3B6H4 - Amazon
I'm not sure which poly movie list this was on, but I don't think it was poly. It wasn't a bad movie, and it was definitely about multiple sex partners, but I don't think it was poly.
The summary at Netflix says "When rich teenagers Tenoch and Julio meet the alluring, older Luisa at a wedding, they try to impress her with stories of a road trip to a secret beach, and ultimately convince her to come with them. What follows in director Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-nominated film -- one of the most talked-about pics of 2002 -- is an escapade involving seduction, conflict and the harsh realities of poverty."
The two main characters, Julio and Tenoch, each have girlfriends that have gone to Europe for the summer. The teenagers meet Tenoch's cousin's wife, Luisa. They find out that she is interested in visiting a beach, so they make up a mythical perfect beach that no one knows about and invite her to come with them to find it, hoping to score with her but ultimately knowing that they never will.
Luisa visits a doctor, and later that night gets a drunken phone call from her husband, telling her that he cheated on her. So she calls up Tenoch and asks if the offer to visit the beach is still open. The three of them take off across the Mexican countryside to find a beach that doesn't exist.
Along the way, we discover that the boys have each slept with each other's girlfriends, and that Luisa initiates sex with them both independently. Each revelation sets off a spark of jealous rage, culminating in Luisa jumping out of the car and attempting to ditch them both. She only returns after they agree to her long list of demands, including that neither boy fights, contradicts her, or even speaks without her permission.
Eventually, they find a beach and spend a couple of days frolicking in the water and getting drunk, which seems to repair everyone's friendship. Luisa initiates sex with them both again, only this time simultaneously and they have a threesome, including some guy-on-guy activity. But the boys wake up the next morning, appearing to regret it, or at least, regretting the copious amounts of tequila they drank the night before.
Luisa decides to stay at the beach with the new friends she's made among the locals, and the two boys go back home. There's still a little more to the story, but since I watched it for its poly content, and that is the end of the possible poly content, I'll stop there.
I didn't like the characters. The two boys are rich, spoiled, entitled, potheads who spend their entire time drugged out of their heads, drunk, and masturbating. When they're not actively masturbating, they're talking about women's body parts or insulting each others' body parts. They don't seem to have any other interests at all besides pot, beer, and tits. Not "women" or "girls", but boobs, specifically. Maybe vulvas too, they just talk about boobs incessantly. I'm not even sure how they got girlfriends in the first place, except I seem to remember being a teenager and not really having much in common with some boyfriends except that we liked to fuck so that probably explains how a couple of douches like these kids found partners.
They were jealous and hypocritical and boastful and deceitful and, well, the stereotype of teenage boys. Luisa seemed the most complex of the characters, but she just wasn't quite enough to carry the whole movie by herself. Her motivation for randomly accepting an invitation to spend a week driving around a foreign country with a couple of boys she didn't know, and to further entice them both into sex with no lead-up and no prior reciprocated interest or attraction, makes sense in light of the glimpses we did get into her regular life. It's just that the scenes were too filled with the boys cussing at each other and generally being obnoxious teens, that I couldn't really like the movie.
I will say, though, that foreign films can do sex scenes better than American films. This movie opens with the two boys fucking their girlfriends, and although the dialog is terrible, the scenes feel realistic. Maybe it's the use of handheld cameras, or the lack of cheesy music and soft lighting and camera filters, or maybe it's the frantic teenage-boy fucking, but I thought the sex scenes, for all that they were softcore, were the best parts of the movie. Even awkward sex, done right, is better than smooth sex done wrong.
So, it was an interesting film. It was a sexual exploration movie. If you're into that, you might want to see this film. But it wasn't a poly movie. It wasn't about relationships or love. It was about sex. Which has its place, just not on a poly movie list.
My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (2010)
www.imdb.com/title/tt1447793/ - Internet Movie Data Base
https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/My-Girlfriend-s-Boyfriend/70125551 - Netflix
www.amazon.com/My-Girlfriends-Boyfriend-Alyssa-Milano/dp/B004IN75DU - Amazon
The description from Netflix reads "Jesse Young is a girl who has everything and maybe too much of it when she finds herself falling for two seemingly perfect guys: sexy but struggling writer Ethan and button-down advertising exec Troy. Can she find true love with two men at the same time, or is somebody going to get a broken heart?" The tagline reads "What would you do if you found your one true love... twice?"
This had more potential than almost any other possibly-poly movie I'd seen in a long time, especially for a movie that wasn't on any poly lists but that Netflix recommended to me based on adding other poly movies to my queue. The title and the line "Can she find true love with two men at the same time" made the cynical part of my brain pause in condemning it for yet another Hollywood choose-between-them romantic comedy plot. "This one," I thought "might actually be poly." I went into watching this movie with high hopes, but wary that those high hopes would lead me to a big fall.
My Girlfriend's Boyfriend stars Alyssa Milano, whom I've had a straight-girl-crush on for pretty much my entire life, so even with my usual misgivings about modern romantic comedies, I had to give it a try. Alyssa, as Jesse, is entirely convincing in her character and she put me back into my own history with similar situations. Jesse is a waitress who meets Ethan, a sexy-in-that-geeky-way writer who has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get published for years and whose latest meeting with a publisher has convinced him that he will never make it as a writer.
Jesse, we learn right away, is getting over some kind of relationship ending and is not yet ready to try again. But then she meets Ethan, and seems to decide that her uncle was right - it's time to take that leap and go for love. She gives Ethan her phone number. But as Ethan leaves Jesse's cafe, a tall, handsome, charismatic man walks in through the front door. It seems that, when Jesse decides to leap, she goes for a swan dive off Mt. Everest. Troy, our handsome advertising executive, gets Jesse's phone number too.
The two men couldn't be more different from each other, and yet, they're really not all that different. Ethan takes Jesse on those cheesy sorts of dates that end up being the most romantic dates ever because of how personal and intimate they are. Troy takes Jesse on those perfect sorts of dates that end up being the most romantic dates ever because of how flawless they are. Jesse is smart and funny and sarcastic (and beautiful) and it's easy for me to see why both men like her (as opposed to the romantic lead in Cafe au Lait). As time progresses, we see her struggling with her growing feelings and her secret.
When monogamous people date, there is this unspoken, implicit rule that when you're "just dating", it's OK to go on dates with more than one person. It's even acceptable not to tell the people you're on dates with that you are going on dates with other people. The point is to maximize your time to more efficiently select The One, and since he is The One, he doesn't need to know about all the applicants who didn't make the cut. So the fact that Jesse has a secret isn't surprising, and I can completely understand how she could get herself into this predicament. In the beginning, many people don't need, or want, to reveal everything - this relationship may not go anywhere, or it may go somewhere bad. Better to wait and see if this relationship is worth keeping before revealing something that makes you vulnerable.
The problem is that, oftentimes, we don't know that this relationship is worth revealing that secret until we've kept that secret past the point where we should have revealed it. By then, the longer the secret is kept, the harder it is to reveal it because you not only have to reveal something that might destroy your relationship, but you have to reveal that you've been keeping that secret this whole time, adding broken trust and a false foundation onto whatever horror your secret is. It's a terrible predicament to be in. At first, the relationship isn't worth revealing your secret over. Then, when the relationship is worth it, it becomes too important to risk losing by revealing the secret. Rock, meet Hard Place.
This is going to be really difficult because I don't know how to end this review without giving away spoilers. So I'm going to say something here that needs to be said and is going to sound like a spoiler ... but it really won't be.
This is not a poly movie.
But this movie sucked me in, made me cry, made me root for the characters, put me back inside the headspace of a person I no longer am and could no longer remember, and I was completely surprised.
This is not a poly movie, but it's also not your typical romantic comedy. There is no "girl meets wrong guy that we know is the wrong guy because she sleeps with him too soon while Mr. Right pines away for her and eventually wins her away from the obvious bastard that she has chosen instead" plot. This movie doesn't make the same tired old plot turns, it takes totally different plot turns. As cynical as I can be, I feel as though I should have seen some of these things coming, because, now that I know the ending, I can see how it was set up. But either the writing or the acting (or both) was so touching and so real to me, that I didn't see it coming until the reveal.
One of the criticisms I read about this movie was that the two concurrent plots of Jesse and her two men were boring by themselves, without the tension of the Big Secret. Personally, I thought that was the movie's strength. Too often, especially in romantic comedies, we have to introduce some wild conflict - usually a conflict that would solve the whole problem if the characters just talked to each other. And every time I yell at the screen "this whole thing could be solved if you just do X and all this pain and suffering you're feeling would be over!", someone else reminds me that we wouldn't have the movie if they did the reasonable, rational thing, so shut up, Joreth, and watch the movie.
And I HATE that! Reporters and TV producers regularly approach me for their shows only to reject me when they find out that I don't usually feel jealous in my relationships, we don't argue all that much, and when we do, it's usually solved with a long discussion or two and not so much with the fighting in public or screaming and name-calling, and that I don't hate my metamours. For some reason, people feel the need to include massive amounts of drama* in their entertainment (and their lives). Now, there are certainly stories that I enjoy that include huge conflicts - like lovers being separated by war, or epic battles of good vs. evil, or, even better, epic battles of fundamentally flawed people vs. other fundamentally flawed people.
But a relationship that doesn't have lying, lack of communication, fights, breakups and reconciliations, and all the rest of the contrived bullshit that writers put into them can still be an interesting story. Yes, it's true, without the tension of the "secret", if we watched each of Jesse's relationships individually as its own movie instead of together, there isn't a whole lot of conflict. Jesse seems pretty happy with each of her men, and each man seems pretty happy with her. And I LIKED that.
I absolutely loved the fact that there wasn't a clear loser. I loved that she didn't choose "the wrong one". I loved that one guy wasn't an asshole and the other was perfect. I loved that we didn't have to make one guy a villain or to kill one of them off in order to justify her choosing the other one. I loved that because it felt more real to me. It made much more sense to me why she was with each man. I am too often disgusted with romantic comedies because I can't understand why the characters are together, since they don't seem to really like each other. In this movie, although I actually liked Ethan better as a match for *me*, I could totally see why Jesse would have been in each relationship. It felt REAL.
Had I written this movie, it would not have gone in the direction it did go. But, given the direction it went in, I have to say that it ended exactly as it should have. How she ended up with who she ended up with has been written before, although rarely, so it was a bit of a twist in that regard. I usually feel, in stories that take this path, that the writer wrote himself into a corner and had to use a cheesy plot device to write himself out. I didn't feel that way this time. It is a difficult path that the writer chose for his story, and one, as I said, I would not have taken if I were writing it. But, for once, I didn't hate that the writer took this direction.
In addition, the movie threw a bit of a curveball at the end that I've seen happen in a couple of other stories, and it happens to be a curveball that I have a particularly strong feeling about - it being a personal issue of mine. But this curveball is so rarely well-handled, and in real life it's handled even less well, that to see the character give exactly the response I so hoped for made the movie for me.
The other criticism I read was that the surprise plot twist was too easy to figure out. As I said above, after having watched the movie, I can now see all the places where it was set up, and I feel as though I should have seen it coming. I won't say what those clues are because I don't want to give it away if you haven't seen it (and even if you can guess the ending before it ends, the movie is still better not knowing it ahead of time), but I did notice at the time when a couple of clues presented themselves that something funny was going on and, in hindsight, it's completely obvious.
But, the point is that, sure, the plot twist and the Big Secret could have been figured out. There is a very fine line between too easy to figure out and completely unable to figure out because the setup went so out of its way to trick us that it ended up being implausible, and where that line is for any individual may vary, so I don't think any movie could possibly get it perfectly right. What I think a movie has to do is make it *possible* to figure out so that it's plausible and realistic, but so engaging that the audience is too busy feeling the story to sit back and analyze it to find the clues. And I think that's exactly what this movie did.
So, it's not a poly movie. It was a romantic comedy. And I recommend it anyway.
The word "drama" gets a bad rap in poly circles because of its misuse. I write about this problem often, so if you're interested in more discussion about it, visit my blog or Facebook page. But the short footnote is that when *I* use the word "drama", I do not mean any old conflict. All relationships have conflict. When I use that term, I mean that when conflict arises (or, more likely, is manufactured), the response to the conflict is so extreme as to be performative in nature. Meaning that sometimes shit happens like a death in the family or personality clashes and that's to be expected, but when a person goes out of their way to arrange their life in such a manner as to invite conflict, and then to deal with the conflict in unproductive ways that almost seem deliberate, that invite attention or an audience or participation from those outside the conflict, and do so repeatedly without any attempt made to learn more productive behaviour for dealing with conflict in the future, that's "drama".
These are the people who follow their partners to public venues and then have shouting matches in the parking lot, perhaps with the throwing of chairs or beer bottles, that result in venue security intervening, instead of attempting productive conflict resolution techniques or simply leaving someone, mostly because the only examples they've seen of dealing with conflict is from people who have an audience like reality TV or movies. As some article once said, we often learn how to fight by watching things like Friends, where people who are supposed to be buddies throw out some zinger to hurt each other. This doesn't make any sense for friends to fight this way, but it makes perfect sense if those friends have writers who have to entertain an audience with the fight. So we then grow up thinking that flinging insults at the people we care about that other people will laugh or "oooh" at is the way that people fight. This is what I mean by "drama". It's performative. That's why I use that term specifically, because drama invokes "the theatre" and is "dramatic", or perhaps even melodramatic. It most definitely does not include all forms of conflict, or even strong emotional feelings during conflict.
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Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969)
www.imdb.com/title/tt0064115/ - Internet Movie Data Base
www.netflix.com/title/26308213 - Netflix
www.amazon.com/Butch-Cassidy-Sundance-Two-Disc-Collectors/dp/B000EXDS5M/ - Amazon
This is a difficult movie for me to categorize. First of all, it's a western all about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But it's not a typical Western either. Not being very familiar with the actual history (or legends) about them, I couldn't tell you how historically "accurate" the movie is, but it was an enjoyable movie. The characters are gruff old Western bank robbers. They're bad guys but they're likable bad guys. The difficulty I have is the poly content. Now, keep in mind that this movie is first and foremost, a western. The poly story line is not the main focus of the story, although it takes place for more or less half the movie, so if you watch it, go into it with that perspective.
First, we see Butch and Sundance hanging out at a brothel, and there was no jealousy or weirdness about sharing women. So I thought "a movie about not getting jealous over prostitutes is NOT about polyamory". But that wasn't where the poly story was. Next, we discover that Sundance has actually hooked up with a schoolmarm in his version of a long-term relationship. He shows up when he shows up, but they obviously have real feelings for each other and it's not just a sexual release. Sundance admires and likes Etta as a person, and Etta clearly is strongly attached to Sundance. Sorta like how I do relationships, actually.
The poly part comes because of her feelings for Butch. But that's also where the question comes in.
In the second main scene with Etta, after she has spent a night with Sundance, Butch comes riding up on a new bicycle and tempts her outside for a romantic and touching bike ride. Afterwards, Etta asks him a loaded question ... [inserted movie clip] So clearly, there are also very strong romantic feelings between Etta and Butch. But Etta does not consider it to be a "relationship" and they do not have a sexual relationship at all.
This is one of those relationships that lives on the very fuzzy borders of the definition of polyamory. On the one hand, Etta establishes that her relationship with Sundance is a clear-cut case of a romantic relationship, what with their feelings for each other and their sexual activity and all. She appears to have similar feelings for Butch, but she does not acknowledge a romantic relationship with him, possibly because of the lack of sexual activity.
But as I said in my review of Carrington, many polys acknowledge the existence of NSSO or Non Sexual Significant Other relationships. The three of them take off together across the country and into South America where they live as a more or less happy threesome, just without any sex between Etta and Butch. Is it poly if Butch always sleeps alone but is part of the same household?
Since I have titled my list "Poly-ISH Movies", I think I'll include this movie on the list, but I have mixed feelings about it. I think it differs from Carrington in that the non-sexual partners in Carrington acknowledged a family and even a romantic bond with each other, but that bond is not acknowledged by all in this movie. I think that's what makes the difference to me, so I don't know that I would classify this as a poly movie. But it has so many other elements of a poly family, that I don't think I can really criticize someone who disagrees with me and thinks that it IS a poly movie.
So, in a rare move for me, I think I'll add it to the list so that people can see it, but I'm going to leave it up to you all to decide for yourselves if this is a poly movie or not without me giving a declarative statement about whether it is or is not a poly movie. I do, however, think it's a terrific example of how messy relationships are and why, although we can have clear-cut definitions that say X definitely IS but Z definitely ISN'T, when it comes to taxonomy, either in biology or sociology, X and Z may be clear, but Y might be something in between. And that's OK.
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Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs (2008)
https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Futurama-The-Beast-with-a-Billion-Backs/70096914 - Netflix
www.amazon.com/Futurama-Beast-Billion-Brittany-Murphy/dp/B00158K0V0// - Amazon
www.imdb.com/title/tt1054485 - IMDB
On the recommendation of an ex partner of mine, I watched Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs. It's a poly story. Seriously. No, I mean it, it is!
I enjoy Futurama, but I wouldn't call myself a "fan". I find it mildly amusing and don't object to it being on, but I like Simpsons and older South Park better, as far as adult-oriented animated series go. Futurama goes higher on the preferred watch list than most of the other adult cartoons, however. So I found this movie to be about on par with my overall impression of Futurama - mildly amusing. But, personal preferences aside, it did, indeed, have a strong poly content, albeit with a lot of sarcasm and self-referential humor.
Spoiler alert! This whole review is going to spoil the plot because the whole movie is about multiple relationships, one way or another. Sorry!
So Fry (basically the main character) falls in love with this girl, Colleen, and on the day he moves in with her, he discovers that she's living with 4 other guys. For the record, this is not the time to reveal that you're poly. There is some controversy over whether to bring up the P-word before or after the first date, but we all pretty much agree that sooner is better than later. After you move in together is *way* too late.
[inserted movie clip where Fry is introduced to his new metamours]
What follows is an amusing hyperbolic dinner conversation (amusing for it's not so-hyperbolic content) that spans enthusiastic embrace of polyamory to in-fighting & ad hominem attacks. [inserted movie clip of the dinner conversation] Remember, this is the first time Fry is learning about polyamory, *and* their first night of living together. Then goes back to his crew mates (the rest of the regular cast of the show) to sulk, where he once again decides he can't live without her.
So, while Fry is bouncing back and forth between desire for Colleen and feelings of rejection and abandonment because of her interest in other men, the universe is threatened by a giant tentacle monster from a rift in the universe. The tentacle monster finds Fry and attaches a tentacle to the top of his spinal column, whereby Fry becomes the tentacles' spokesman and champion. He founds a new religion preaching the gospel of the tentacles, which is to love the tentacles and the tentacles will love you. That seems to be the entire message.
Eventually, it is discovered that the tentacles are not just hooking into the brain stem and causing feelings of love, but that the tentacles are actually "genticals", er, having sex with the humans and other aliens through the tentacle and the spinal column. So the people all get grossed out, and now the tentacle monster comes forward to speak with his own voice.
Yivo, the tentacle monster, admits to originally wanting a quickie with all the sentients, but when he hooked up, he discovered our loneliness. He is lonely too. You see, "he" is actually an entire universe with no one to talk to. So, although it was originally "just sex" for him, now he's in love and he wants the chance to woo everyone properly.
So, all the sentients get together and decide to give the tentacle universe a chance at a first date, to see if they really do have something special together without the subterfuge. A bunch of humans and aliens go on dates and report back. At the meeting, it's decided to continue dating the tentacle universe.
But soon, that's not enough. Fry proclaims that he has received no intentions of a commitment, and he doesn't think he can go through the heartache again of a commitment-less relationship (because, that's what polyamory is, right?). It is then decided that they should all "break up" with Yivo. So they go in person to do the deed, whereby Yivo surprises the emissaries with a giant diamond engagement ring. Once again, the humans and aliens in our universe are convinced to remain in a relationship with the tentacle universe. Yivo then invites everyone to move in with him and sends down golden escalators to bring everyone through the rift to the tentacle universe.
Make note that this whole courtship was only towards the biological sentient beings in the universe. Robots were not included. This means that Bender, the robot with the attitude ("bite my shiny metal ass!") and companion to Fry and the rest of his crew, is left alone on Earth with only other robots & he has lost his entire crew.
Back in the tentacle universe, the people have arrived via golden escalators to a world of fluffy white clouds with harps just lying around everywhere, and a species of dumb "birds" that look suspiciously like human angels with white wings and robes that eat the parasites off Yivo in a mutually beneficial sort of symbiotic relationship. Fry finds himself lying in a post-orgiastic puppy pile on Mattress Island wondering why they used to all be so jealous, and isn't this so much better?
Back in our universe, Bender decides that it's up to him to rescue his crew from Yivo, now that (as he imagines) the rush of infatuation must be wearing off and the realities of cohabiting life must be disillusioning Fry and the rest of the crew. So ensues a quest to the rift and a battle between Bender and his demonic robot army dressed as pirates, and the tentacle universe.
Fry tries to stop the battle & convince Bender that he's actually really happy there and to please leave, when Yivo stops to question how Bender got the mysterious material he coated his sword with that allows him to penetrate the previously impenetrable hide of the tentacles. Fry has to admit to sending a letter back to Bender telling him how happy he is, in direct violation of their explicit agreement for Fry not to have any contact with any other universes. Apparently the tentacle universe wants an OUP - One Universe Policy. And those of us who have been around the poly block a few times know how terrible those are! Anyway, the letter was written on the material that Bender used to coat his sword that gave him the ability to chop through the tentacles.
Yivo decides he can no longer trust Fry for breaking what amounts to a fundamentally abusive agreement & the relationship is too damaged to continue, and sends everyone else back to their own universe. Yivo does keep Colleen, though, as the only one who truly understands him, leaving Fry still partner-less. Fry asks why Bender caused all the trouble in the first place, after all, everyone was happy and in love. [inserted movie clip: "Love? That's not love! ... Bender knows love! And love doesn't share itself with the world. Love is suspicious. Love is needy. Love is fearful. Love is greedy. My friends! There is no great love without great jealousy!" and he proceeds to choke his crewmates with his hug and his proclamation "I love you meatbags!"]
I could use this to write a whole blog piece about how the Monogamous Mindset* does, indeed see love in such terms and why and how that's the problem with the world. But I won't. I'll let you all hear those words tinged with the irony and sarcasm I'm so well known for and let that make my point, for now. I enjoy sarcasm and irony, and I, in particular, enjoy media that uses irony and sarcasm to make political and social commentary. So if you enjoy Matt Groening's animation and humor style, I recommend this movie. If you don't, I still recommend that it go on a list of poly-ish movies, even though it seems to cast the poly characters in a negative light. I recommend it because it pretty much casts *everyone* in a negative light, and the final comment about the selfishness and possessiveness of "love" seems to me to be a much more negative commentary on how mono society does romantic relationships. Plus, we can poke a little fun at ourselves now and then, and some aspects of our poly community deserve a little teasing and mocking.
*The Monogamous Mindset is a particular mindset found within monogamous societies that seek to justify and protect the institution of monogamy in direct opposition to contrary evidence and with many faulty assumptions as premises. It does not imply every single person who engages in monogamous relationships - that is why it is in capital letters and why I didn't just say "monogamy" or "monogamous people". One can be monogamous without having the Monogamous Mindset, and one can attempt to engage in non-monogamous relationships while still maintaining the Monogamous Mindset. In other words, if you're monogamous and don't do this, then I'm not talking about you.
Paint Your Wagon (1969)
https://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/Paint-Your-Wagon/60010761 - Netflix
www.amazon.com/Paint-Your-Wagon-Lee-Marvin/dp/B00003CXBX/ - Amazon
It's so much worse when they manage to get you to like a movie before they turn it to shit.
I watched Paint Your Wagon, a cheesy movie made in the 1960s very loosely based on a musical written in the 1940s based on life in California in the 1840s. Although, the movie has almost nothing to do with the play, other than the names of a couple of characters and some of the songs force-fed into the script.
I fully expected this movie to suck - after all, it's a musical staring Clint Eastwood, and it got terrible reviews even from people who like musicals. It was incredibly cheesy, even for a musical, but it managed to suck me into the story and make me care about the characters. It was surprisingly deep and progressive in places, in spite of the heavy-handed patriarchal values that make women into property.
Ben Rumson is a drunken gold miner who loves living miles outside of civilization. He hates everything that civilization stands for - rules, regulation, order. His first song is all about how, when a territory becomes a state, the first thing you know, the government comes in and takes away your freedoms (I have to admit to a bit of solidarity here).
On his way to try out a new mountain stake in California, he witnesses a couple of brothers in a wagon from a large wagon train, go over a cliff edge, and one of the brothers dies. Ben runs down the mountain to discover that one is still alive. During the funeral, the men helping to dig the grave discover gold dust, which Ben promptly claims with the other brother as his partner, to make up for the first one dying. Here, we officially meet Pardner (Clint Eastwood).
Eventually, a crappy little miner town springs up with a shanty General Store, Barber Shop, the usual. There are 400 men in the town and no women. Until one day, a man drives up in a carriage with 2 women and a baby. We learn that he is a Mormon and the women are his wives, but not too happy about the situation. The miners offer to buy one of his wives, since it's not fair for him to hoard what is so scarce, and Elizabeth goads her husband into agreeing to sell her, with the assistance of her jealous and catty sister-wife.
So she goes up for auction and Ben awakens from a drunken stupor just long enough to double the highest bidder and win himself a wife. Since they are in a territory and not part of any government, the only legal recourse they have is miner law, which doesn't have any rules about marriage. So Elizabeth is made a "claim" and purchased by Ben. On their wedding night, she says that even though she is bought and paid for, she'll strike an agreement with Ben. She'll make a good wife and care for him, but in return, he is to build her a log cabin with a stone fireplace and a door she can bolt if she wants to, and he is to treat her with the respect of a wife, not of a paid woman. Otherwise, she'll shoot him. He agrees.
Eventually, Ben builds Elizabeth a house & Pardner lives on the property in his tent and they continue to mine for gold. But Ben, being the owner of the only woman for hundreds of miles, finds himself turning into a jealous lunatic, terrorizing the other miners with wild accusations & attempts to kill them for the slightest (or imagined) infractions. Well, someone gets word that 6 French prostitutes are arriving in a boom town about a hundred miles away, and Ben and Pardner manage to convince the entire town that they ought to kidnap the prostitutes and bring them to their town to solve Ben's jealousy issues.
I have to say, even taking into account the era in which the story was written, and the era in which the story is supposed to take place, the blatant sexism in this story was hard to swallow. I had to keep reminding myself that women really *were* property back then, and that all one could hope for was to find herself an owner ... uh, I mean husband, whom she didn't hate too much. And that prostitutes really *were* (and still are) considered not to have any say in their own bodies; having put them up for rent, they were considered communal property, lower on the food chain than even other women, although with a handful of counter-intuitive freedoms that married and single women couldn't access, depending on era and location.
As usual, in order to explain whether or not this deserves to be added to any poly movie list, I'm going to move on to the spoilers. I figure this movie has been out for roughly 50 years, which is more than adequate for giving away spoilers. However, if you still haven't seen it and want to watch it for the first time fresh, skip down to the conclusion.
There were a few objectors to the plan of kidnapping the prostitutes, and it was pointed out that they would be, effectively, entering the white slave trade with the plan, but the miners went along with it anyway and the women eventually arrived on the doorstep of a brand, new two-story saloon and whorehouse, built just for them. With the addition of prostitutes, the little mining community turned into a boom town called No Name City, with 4 gambling houses and a huge influx of miners with their gold dust to spend.
But, while Ben was off rustling himself some prostitutes, Pardner was asked to stay home and guard Elizabeth from the rest of the miners. Naturally, they fall in love. Pardner tells Ben, when he comes back, that he's in love with his wife and therefore has to leave. Ben goes back to the house to pack up the shared property that Ben has decided to part with in favor of Pardner's leaving, and Elizabeth discovers Pardner's plan. She begs Ben not to let him leave, since she loves him back.
Heartbroken, but so in love with Elizabeth that he can't refuse and being a good friend and partner who won't stand in the way of love, Ben goes back to Pardner and orders him to stay - telling him that Elizabeth loves Pardner and Ben is leaving instead. Pardner refuses, they fight, Ben knocks him out and carries him back to the house where he packs up his things instead. To which Elizabeth begs Ben not to leave, that she loves him.
Pardner wakes up just in time to hear that, and a wild conversation takes place where Elizabeth asks both men to live with her, and why not? She points out that she was previously married to a man with two wives, so what's wrong with a wife having two husbands?
[inserted movie clip where Elizabeth proposes two husbands]
They live happily like this for a while, each man rotating nights spent in town so the other can spend the night alone with his wife. The town, having been built up around them, treats this as normal [inserted movie clip of normalizing behaviour]. There is a charming scene of the 3 of them at dinner where Ben and Elizabeth start bickering, and Pardner jumps in to defend Elizabeth, who promptly turns on him for arguing with Ben, who then stands up for Pardner, and it all ends in a chuckle as the 3 of them realize how much they care for each other and how silly the argument is.
Of course, we couldn't just leave it at that.
One day, news comes in about some farmers fallen ill in the middle of winter up on the mountain while trying to cross. When the rescue party finds them, they discover the farmers to be "good folk", meaning conservative Christian, and decide that the family can't possibly be taken into the den of inequity that is No Name city. So they're housed at the Triad's house, being set outside of town.
Elizabeth is so overcome with shame at her lifestyle in the face of the farmers' piety that she lies about having two husbands, telling them that Pardner is, not Ben. she then makes Ben take lodgings in town until the farmers are well enough to leave, to keep the story.
Now, having a happy triad, in which the woman suggests it, and it involves 2 men, not 2 women, instantly made me like the movie in spite of the cheese factor (OK, I like old musicals, so the cheese wasn't actually too strong for me). But here's where I really started to get drawn to the characters. Here's where Ben starts to look like a multi-dimensional person. He is, naturally, angered at being ousted of his own home, and he is very hurt over not being allowed to acknowledge his relationship to his wife, who was his wife first & to whom he has done everything in his power to show his love for her, from protecting her from harm from the other miners to backing away when she loved another to sharing her (and being the first of the two of them to agree to sharing) when that was what she wanted in spite of his knee-jerk reaction that it was "wrong". He leaves the home he built for his wife and helps keep her secret because it's what she wants, but it tears him up inside that they are being forced to hide who they are and what they have because someone else has a problem with it.
Pardner is also torn up about the split, but he doesn't feel there is anything he can do about it - this is what Elizabeth wants. He tries to maintain friendly ties with Ben in town and at the mine, but Ben's hurt feelings push them apart.
One day, the farmers' son is in town with Ben and insists that Ben come to dinner that night - a dinner invitation he had previously rejected when Pardner offered. Ben shows up to find Elizabeth and Pardner dressed up, saying Grace, and entertaining, just as happy as you please. Ben's rough language and coarse ways offend the pious farmers and embarrasses and angers Elizabeth. She orders Ben out of the house, but Pardner finally stands up for Ben and says that a man can't be ordered out of his own home. Then the truth comes out and both men end up kicked out.
At this time, the town is starting to dry up, and people are moving on to other parts, where rumor has suggested more gold in fresh hills. The town literally collapses in on itself, and everyone packs up to leave. Pardner goes back to the house to get his things and Elizabeth begs him to stay and re-create the happy triad they once had. Here's where the movie turns to shit for me.
Pardner tells her that when it was just the two of them, he got a taste of living with her "like a real husband and wife" (because, she wasn't a real wife before, or something) and he can't go back to sharing her again. Since she is "really" Ben's wife, Pardner is taking off. On the way out of town, he meets up with Ben, who talks of also leaving. The farmers and the radical, proselytizing parson have settled nearby and are building a church and a courthouse, which means civilization. Ben can't be anywhere near civilization, so he's hightailing it outta there. When Pardner learns that Ben absolutely cannot be persuaded to stay with Elizabeth, who won't give up her home [inserted movie clip where Ben describes how attached Elizabeth is to her home], Pardner decides to stay with Elizabeth after all.
I absolutely hate movies that take 3 perfectly companionable people, and give one of them some major flaw, either character or plot, that conveniently eliminates one of them so two can live happily ever after. Usually it's death, but almost as often it's turning one guy into an asshole that the girl eventually sees and rejects, but occasionally it's making one guy so sweet that he voluntarily steps aside for the other one. Because it's not a "real marriage" if there are 3 of them (Pearl Harbor, I'm looking at you here, which managed to do all three).
It's such a shame, because the story portrayed their relationship as happy, as normal, as natural, and as *right*, up until the pressure of what other people thought broke things. Ben says in one of the more memorable lines, [inserted movie clip "If he hadn't brought his goddamn piety into this house, we'd still be a happily married triple!"]. Elizabeth sings "no fears, no fools, no lies, no rules, just doing with my life what life is for," and at one point, someone tells of a prostitute that had to go into hiding for a while because of a jealous death threat. [inserted movie clip "He wanted to marry her but said she'd have to quit working." "Well that's a narrow-minded attitude!"] These kinds of progressive ideals of letting everyone find their own happiness made me like the story and seemed to me to be in favor of those ideas, not spouting them so they could tear them down - they didn't seem to be satire or straw men, they seemed to show happy people - although the "population: drunk" sign at the city limits was a bit over the top, I admit.
Then they had to go and ruin it. Granted, Ben's wanderlust and dislike of "civilization" were established at the beginning of the movie, and Elizabeth's stubbornness was established the moment we met her. But everyone was happy as long as the town remained a boom town, with no real law and order. Ben was happy, Elizabeth, although she hated the town, was happy because without law and order, they could be a family [inserted movie clip where Elizabeth says she's happy to be with both of them], and Pardner was just happy to be with Elizabeth and he genuinely liked Ben. It didn't HAVE to end. They could have gone on indefinitely. But no, the writers had to punish people for living how they wanted, and they had to bring "civilization" with its rules and structure and one way to exist.
So if you stop the movie about 2/3 of the way into it - before the farmers come to town, it's a great poly story. If you keep watching, it's a typical, American morality play. Supposedly the lesson is that law and order are inevitable and to be desired, and for the best of all involved, but in this story the only thing I see is people losing the very things they hold most dear: freedom, love, and family, for the sake of being respected by uptight, narrow-minded, priggish neighbors. However, if the writers intended the story to say that "civilization" and telling other people how to live causes people to lose that which makes them happy, then that would be a moral I could support.
In conclusion, my official Criteria list, specifically the section on whether or not it's poly when poly doesn't "win" in the end, says that if a movie's moral is that poly is doomed and monogamy is the better choice, then it's not a poly movie. But, if a movie's moral is that prejudice or social pressure to conform destroys lives even when polyamory is otherwise working, then it may be a poly movie. So I'm going to include this on the list so that people can see it, but with caveats. If you interpret the movie's moral lesson as suggesting that conforming to "normal" societal rules makes people lose things that make them happy and aren't hurting anyone else, and considering that the movie did show negotiations between three people where each of them were empowered to negotiate for themselves in the process and it resulted in a happy triad arrangement, this could be said to be a poly movie. And, I liked the characters and I also like old musicals, so I'd also recommend watching the movie for that reason, if cheesy technicolor musicals are your thing.
www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1ejN_rwrAWkDESDh3X6cTrxwSjj_59IR - YouTube
www.imdb.com/title/tt5745320/ - IMDB
Wow. So, I've made it through the first 4 episodes aired so far. I'm blown away. OK, first of all, this is a new series airing on a "new digital network", aka YouTube. Enchant TV is the name of the network using YouTube as its channel or delivery mechanism. Second of all, the entire cast is people of color. When's the last fucking time anything poly centered the experience of people of color? The creator, Jackie J. Stone says she wants this network “to be home to dynamic and creative programming that highlights the complexities and the rich and diverse stories of people of color, particularly women.” Which brings me to the third point, which is that the move to polyamory for the characters is instigated by a woman who wants to start dating men. NO GODDAMN UNICORN HUNTING! Can you tell how thrilled I am about this?
All of this makes the fact that it's still a hetero couple "opening up" their marriage a reasonable compromise for me. This show is already blowing past so many other cultural tropes that I'm totally willing to hear this story be told again, because it's being told from a different, under-represented perspective. However, that hetero couple "opening up" is still a trope that I'm going to complain about, but don't let those complaints distract you from my overall reaction, which is that I loved this show so far. Those complaints are really about the trope itself, not necessarily this show.
In the handful of YouTube media I've reviewed so far, I've consistently complained about the time limitations of the medium. I keep saying that the 10-15 minute time restriction makes each show feel rushed and like they are skipping over the complexity of the emotions in order to get to the conclusion or the point they want to make. I absolutely did not feel that way watching this show. Even though it's true that it only took 4 YouTube-length episodes to get from the very first "honey, I want to see other people" conversation to having the first date, I felt that the script writing and editing was brilliantly done and managed to convey the nuance and complexity of the characters and what they might be going through. Having good actors certainly helps too. I really believed the anger, the shock, the hurt on both sides, and I really believed that they were processing a multitude of conflicting emotions when they reached their various plateaus of acceptance in between the fear and the anger.
Something that is usually concerning is that no one involved in the production is poly. The producer got the idea to make the show after meeting a couple who maintains their marriage while also maintaining full romantic relationships in addition to their spouse. I have not had a very good track record with shows that attempt to tackle this subject without direct input from the poly community. However, 4 episodes in, I feel that the cast and crew are taking this project very seriously. Unlike the atrocity that is the 50 Shades movie, the actors seem to respect and admire their characters and the choices the characters make, even though the actors are new to the ideas.
Now, about the production. What can I say? This was more than just getting a hold of a decent camera so that it doesn't look like a home movie. There is obviously experience here, or at least raw talent. The camera work featured a good use of the handheld technique that usually represents "intimacy" and "raw" and "emotional" without overusing it. The first episode is entirely about the big reveal. Keena has to broach the subject with her husband of 15 years, Josh. I fell in love by the second scene, which is Keena having a personal monologue trying to get the courage to bring it up for the first time. I really believed her fear. I really believed her determination. I really believed her dichotomy of psyching herself into having the conversation. I have never "opened up" a relationship because I started out poly as a single person and made sure all my poly relationships were open from the beginning, but for this moment, I really felt like I could have been in Keena's position. Between her acting, the script, and the camera work, I really empathized with her right from the beginning.
Then, when Josh gets the bomb dropped on him, his reaction felt natural. His anger looked real. Again, that takes a combination of acting and script. You can have a good actor deliver crappy lines, and you can have really good dialog delivered with crappy acting. But this conversation felt organic. It felt natural. It felt real. Like with Keena, since I chose polyamory when I was single, I have never had someone throw a world-disrupting challenge at my long-term relationship so I don't really know what it's like to be in Josh's position. But for that scene, I *did* feel that shock and betrayal.
The way that the cinematography was handled, it implies that some time has passed between episodes and that events have taken place in that space, so that helps with the time constraints and the feelings of "rushing past" the complicated stuff. Using some standard movie-making techniques like cutting back and forth between two different times, we get the impression of more depth to the story than we actually see on screen. There's some interesting psychology science behind movie editing, but that could take an entire semester's worth of classes to really go into. Suffice to say, there are some standard tips and tricks that movie makers have been employing and refining over the years that have allowed us to increase the pacing in a film from the early days of film-making and still leave the viewer with the weight of time and the impression of nuance and depth that happens off-screen. There's an episode of the podcast called The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe that actually had a professional in the film industry come on to talk about the science behind editing, so if you're interested, you can listen to that. But I don't want to digress too far. I call them "standard techniques" because the entertainment business uses them so often and so well that audiences mostly don't even see them. That's how you know when your technical skills are good - when the audience gets so immersed in the story that they don't take the time to notice the technique.
But web series in particular often miss some of these tried and true methods. Because new media venues like YouTube and cheaper equipment can bring the medium into more hands than ever before, which is a good thing in general, we also often see the downside to letting "just anyone" make movies - a lack of skill or knowledge or experience about what makes popular media, well, popular. But, as someone *in* the business, I noticed here. This series feels more like a "regular TV show" or "regular movie" than a lot of other web series I've seen. Not that I haven't enjoyed other web series, but I can feel a difference. A lot of time, that difference is chalked up to "it's a different medium" and we're supposed to give it more latitude to actually *be* different. Kinda like when television first hit the scene - we couldn't do the same things that movies did and we ended up inventing all different kinds of entertainment because of it. But sometimes, that difference really isn't anything more than lacking in knowledge or skill about how to accomplish effective techniques or *why* they're effective, and therefore used, in the first place. I don't know about the education or experience of the director or the crew, but these episodes so far *feel* like they know the business.
Now, onto some criticisms. This is going to reveal some spoilers, but if you go to the YouTube page to watch the show and happen to see the titles of each episode, it's not really all that spoilery. But I am going to harp on one particular conversation in one episode, so that is kinda spoilery. By the 4th episode, there is an acceptance of sorts. If you've either seen up to the 3rd episode or you've read all the titles, or you've guessed by the name of the show, then you know that the couple eventually does attempt to start dating people other than each other. So, we're now at the point where that dating has been given the green light. Through a series of cut-backs, we see part of the conversation where the couple moves into acceptance and planning. And here is my criticism: the conversation is absolutely typical of everything I'm against in the poly community.
I want to reiterate here that this is not really a criticism of the show itself but of the very concept the show is choosing to highlight. I think that, given the premise of a couple opening up a marriage, this is actually the correct way to start out this journey for the characters precisely because it's so typical. It just also happens to be so "wrong". But it's such a natural progression for people who exist in a culture where polyamory is not just one acceptable choice among many, so of course our characters here would go there. I just hope that they eventually learn how unethical and cruel the kinds of rules that they choose to make are. We see veto, we see an agreement to close up if things get difficult, we see restrictions on other people's behaviour, and we see all of these rules being made without the input of the other people involved. In their haste to "protect the marriage", we see the all-too typical disempowerment and putting the relationship ahead of the people in the relationship. I wanted so bad to jump into the screen and hand the couple a copy of the Relationship Bill of Rights and More Than Two.
I think I read somewhere that all the filming was already over, at least for this first season, so it probably won't help, but I do hope the director gets her hands on a copy of More Than Two and of The Game Changer, especially, and they influence the writing of upcoming seasons. I have no idea where this story will go past episode 4 because it's not out yet, but judging by the completely predictable trajectory thus far and the fact that the show so far hasn't tried to rush past all the hard stuff yet, I'm betting that the couple doesn't magically jump from totally normal couple privilege hierarchy fear straight to a more ethical open structure before the first season is over. I'm betting that they're going to show us all the growing pains, and therefore will have still plenty of room to grow in future seasons that The Game Changer book can influence, if the director reads it.
So, in conclusion, I loved, loved, loved the first episodes I've seen, criticisms and all. I'm assuming that, just as it's unlikely to jump straight to totally ethical, totally open, no issues polyamory, it's probably also unlikely to start from such a sensitive and honest examination of open relationships and end on a sour, "polyamory is doomed to fail, here watch this train wreck to see why" note too, especially given the show title of Compersion. So, unless the series surprises me with one of the commonly trite, finger-wagging morality lessons against ethical non-monogamy, I'm gonna go ahead and declare this to be, both, a definite must-include on the Poly-ish Movie List and a must-see show.